Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 10 Country, Folk & Blues Albums

6. Laura Marling
Once I Was an Eagle

What does Laura Marling have to do to gain the attention of North America? Nominated for three Mercury Awards in her native UK, the 23-year-old is the bookish girl who doesn't exude the hipster flash or outspoken attitude that drives our flavour-of-the-week music press.

Composed of 16 gorgeously clever folk songs, Once I Was an Eagle is somehow just as focused and bare as it is sprawling and ambitious. Whether she's matching Fiona Apple's shadowboxer phrasing-style on "You Know," Bob Dylan's smart-ass confidence on "Master Hunter" or Nick Drake's hopeless vulnerability on "Love Be Brave," Marling's fourth full-length simultaneously sounds sorrowful and carefree, like a lover with no choice but to laugh at the futility of heartbreak.

Unofficially split into two parts and divided by the strange ragtime "Interlude," Once I Was an Eagle shows off both sides of Marling's intricate and imaginative songwriting style, as the first four tracks wonderfully blend into each other to create a vulnerable, naive suite. Over the album's last eight songs, Marling becomes giddy and playful before the closer, "Saved These Words," brings it right back to square one, crafting a song-cycle fuelled by naked emotion rather than descriptive narrative. (Daniel Sylvester)